Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Black and White and Thor All Over
It’s odd that Natalie Portman would return for Thor: Love and Thunder and not Avengers: Endgame (apart from a voiceover cameo). After how mundane Thor: The Dark World turned out to be, no one can blame Portman for wanting to move on from the Thor franchise and the MCU. Since Endgame is already so jam packed with story beats and characters, maybe closure for Jane Foster would have felt rushed.
It seemed like Portman came back to Thor for the same reason Chris Hemsworth found inspiration for the character again after working with Taika Waititi on Thor: Ragnarok. Giving the character a more humorous spin reinvigorated the intrigue of portraying the God of Thunder. In Love and Thunder, Jane has stage 4 cancer. She’s been working day and night in between chemo treatments in an effort to try to find a cure, but nothing seems to be working and she isn’t expected to last much longer. She turns to Norse mythology and a reconstructed Mjolnir that transforms her into The Mighty Thor.
After a nine year absence, Love and Thunder is an awkward place to leave the Jane Foster character. Given her health situation, you can typically guess where she’ll end up by the end of the film. It feels like closure not only for her, but also for Thor. The odd thing is it's unusual that Portman would only return for one film, especially since she had the opportunity to be a new version of Thor. The end credits scene hints that we may see her again, but in a different kind of way.
The chemistry between Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth has only gotten stronger over the years, as well. They work well together during the big action sequences, but their more intimate scenes are the highlight amongst all of the goofiness. The conversation between Jane and Thor right before they reach the Shadow Realm on the boat stands out since it’s their first real quiet, serious, and long conversation to themselves after Jane has returned. Thor pleading with Jane to not use Mjolnir again as she lays cancerous in a hospital bed is also a real tearjerker.
Christian Bale is a Phenomenal On-Screen Villain
It's as if Marvel and Kevin Feige gave Taika Waititi free reign to do just about whatever he wanted with Thor: Love and Thunder. Waititi was restrained slightly in Ragnarok, especially since he didn’t write the film. But he wrote and directed Love and Thunder and it absolutely shows. The film prioritizes absurdity over an actual, coherent storyline. While a story is there, it’s incredibly straightforward. Thor is lonely, Jane is dying, and there’s a new villain running around killing all the gods. Everything in between is just silliness. There’s some enjoyable stuff in there, but it seems like Waititi has been all over everything the past few years (his two Thor films, What We Do in the Shadows, Our Flag Means Death) and amusement for his off brand New Zealand based comedy is waning.
Christian Bale is quite good as Gorr. He’s scary and heartless, but also fascinatingly tender and compassionate whenever he’s around his daughter. Despite loathing the superhero genre after his time as Batman, Bale seems to be having a blast as Gorr as he gleefully terrorizes children and has some of the most memorable action sequences of the MCU. The black and white effect of the Shadow Realm is a cool visual effect as is the hint of color that splashes onto The Mighty Thor as she uses Mjolnir to light her way. The shadow monsters that bleed from Gorr’s necrosword are these horrendous demons that are disgustingly awesome and also contribute to the film's visually aesthetic whenever Gorr is around.
Some of the other visuals and special effects are funky and off-putting, but feel like they’re done purposely for comedic effect; Thor’s splits in the air during the opening battle of the film are a prime example. The black and white battle in the Shadow Realm looks peculiar, as well. It’s like when the melding of live-action and CGI doesn’t quite work combined with your eyes not being used to everything being gray scale. Some of the effects are really good; Korg looks amazing and the super vibrant colors of the film mirror the artwork of Jason Aaron’s Thor comics. But others just don’t sit right with you even when they’re solely for comedic purposes.
Thor’s jealousy of Mjolnir picking Jane over him is also the funniest recurring bit in the film. Every time he tries to call Mjolnir or tries to get his former hammer’s attention, Stormbreaker becomes jealous. The film actually depicts the two hammers as being living entities without the ability to speak and yet each have their own unique emotions. Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher, the two goats that constantly scream, are as funny as they are annoying for obvious reasons.
Shenanigans Trump Storytelling
The world is in this permanent state of superhero film overload. Every year we have multiple superhero films because they make a ton of money and that’s fine, but we’ve far surpassed the point of burnout. The same can be said for Taika Waititi. It’s fantastic that Waititi is a successful filmmaker and has so much work in the public eye, but we’re reaching Seth MacFarlane having four animated shows that all look the same all airing on the same network territory. Love and Thunder is the result of, “too much of a good thing.”
To be fair, Waititi has some really funny material in Love and Thunder. Everyone in the extremely talented cast looks to be having a ton of fun and the villain is out of this world good. The events of the film feel kind of pointless, especially with repeat viewings. Phase four of the MCU has this aimless direction that is heading towards a ton of projects that no one is really all that excited for. After Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home, it honestly feels like the MCU has reached its peak. Thor: Love and Thunder is mostly just a brightly colored filler episode that will likely be forgotten about like most of the Thor franchise.